There are no statistics on how many family reunions start at funerals, but the number must be high.
"People say to each other, 'We've got to stop meeting like this,' " says Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine. The realization that the older generation won't be around forever often spurs people to organize a happier way to get together and strengthen family ties.
This is the season for reunions because kids are out of school, people are able to take vacations and there are fewer scheduling conflicts. In fact, if this story inspires you to organize your own family gathering, you have just enough time to plan a summer reunion -- for 1999, that is.
"Give planning the first one enough time," says Ms. Wagner. "One to two years is not too much. Don't do it alone, and don't try for the moon the first time. Keep it simple and be practical."
The first reunion might be a pot-luck picnic in the park, but you never know where it will go from there.
Curtis Adams, a dentist in West Baltimore, and his five siblings began getting together every other year in the 1960s.
"After my father turned 90," he says, "we started meeting every year."
The Adams family reunion has taken place on cruise ships and in hotels; the original siblings usually act as hosts on a rotating basis. And "once every seven years, we go back to our home site in Waycross, Georgia," says Dr. Adams.
Participants get Adams reunion T-shirts, and there are always lots of social activities. On Sunday, the group attends the church of the family member sponsoring the event and donates 10 times the age of Dr. Adams' father ($1,000 this summer).
The Adams reunion will be one of about 200,000 taking place this year in the United States, estimates Tom Ninkovich of Reunion Research, which publishes booklets on organizing and holding reunions. A whole industry of reunion planners and travel agents has sprung up to make getting the generations together easy and fun.
Pick a date that is significant (a 90th birthday) or likely to be convenient (a long holiday weekend) or simply what's available if the group wants to visit a resort.
"Don't do a consensus," advises Ms. Wagner. "In a large family, someone always can't come."
Once the date is set, it shouldn't be changed. This is assuming, of course, that family members have been given plenty of notice -- at least six months.
You have the date and you have the place. Now what?
"The number one rule," says Mr. Ninkovich, "is to show the kids a good time. The adults will take care of themselves." If the children have wonderful memories of the event, they'll be more likely to continue the tradition when it's time for them to take over.
Activities, however, should include some the generations can do together. These might be a planned walk or a day trip or an auction to raise money for the next reunion.
Even the simplest reunion will have out-of-pocket expenses for the people who are in charge, beginning with paying for the postcards announcing the event.
"Start asking for money right up front," says Ms. Wagner.
Those who aren't comfortable with the idea of a reunion fee might raise money at the event with an auction, rummage sale or raffle.
The most important activity for everyone at any reunion, of course, is learning the family history. Mr. Ninkovich recommends gathering as much material as possible to tell the story: photos, heirlooms, recipes, photocopies of immigration lists and even music. Plan a program in which people can talk about family history and ethnicity.
"A reunion is more important than any other gathering insofar as its long-range benefit to the family," says Mr. Ninkovich.